Home > Iran > Does election criticism hurt the protesters?

Does election criticism hurt the protesters?

John Kerry’s editorial in the New York Times raised some important issues regarding the protests in Iran, as well as the backlash against President Obama’s speech. It is true that a strong reaction to the election outcome does run the risk of being construed as meddling. Indeed, Iranian authorities are already doing just that. On the other hand, it is important not to characterize the Iranian public as capricious, or easily influenced by government statements. Not only is such a characterization offensive, but the past week’s protests would seem to prove just the opposite.

At first, I thought Kerry’s discussion of the outrage among many commentators on President Obama’s “muted” reaction to the election fraud would fall into just such an overly simplistic warning. Yes, he does caution against making statements that could be distorted into supporting the official line in Tehran – that the protests are the result of outside meddling (quite the difference from Ahmadinejad’s original portrayal of the protests as similar to the exuberance after a soccer game). On the other hand, his analysis was fairly nuanced, emphasizing the need for the election crisis to be resolved by Iranians.

Still, I do think that his stance goes perhaps a little too far. He concludes by warning against “harsh criticism,” and its ability to “empower hard-liners”. I am personally reluctant to take criticism off the table. I think that President Obama’s reaction is a good beginning, especially in attempting to shift the focus to a nonviolent solution to the dispute. We should be very careful in our reaction to this crisis, but there is also something to be said for solidarity with the protesters. We should allow them to take the lead, but we should provide them with support if they want it. (It goes without saying that there should be limits on what support we will offer.)

Kerry’s call for caution may be a little too intense, but his overall sentiment is correct. Iran has rejected overt American influence once, and there is no reason to try it again. Any reforms or changes that come out of this controversy must be the achievements of Iranians. In a less volatile relationship than that between the United States and Iran, criticism of an election process would be less likely to be distorted into a sign of intervention, but the volatility is there. The United States needs to step back a little, and hope that this conflict will be resolved peacefully and openly.

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